Welcome back to the series, where I review TEDx videos and write five takeaways from them. This video is about “How to get our brain into focus” by Chris Bailey. I felt this is very apt in the social distraction battles we all fight almost daily. I used to get distracted with notifications during my classes, and I made the rule to shut down everything except Microsoft Teams, where my classes run. Trust me; this made a massive difference in improving my focus.

Chris uses simple examples to describe our day to day distractions. He decided to take on a tough challenge because the phone has become an integral part of our lives. Right from talking to parents, answering work calls, and listening to music generally happens on the phone.

Just by removing one device, Chris started noticing some changes. This led him to pursue a long journey of discovering the approach on how to handle distractions. It was a fantastic journey of meeting experts, conducting more experiments on himself, reading papers, and articles. Every day was a new learning experience.

Attention span is the length of time for which a person can concentrate on a particular activity. This is a significant problem with people, especially at my age. Chris gave an interesting fact that when we work in front of a computer with a phone in proximity, the focus lasts only for an average of 40 seconds without distraction. There is a mechanism in our mind called the “Novelty Bias,” in which our mind rewards us with a hit of dopamine, which is a “pleasurable feeling.” This is also known as stimulation. We experience this when we check constantly switch between social apps, chat with friends, etc. To summarize, we not only crave distraction, but our mind rewards us for seeking it out.  

Chris talks about an experiment where he tried to destimulate his mind that resulted in boredom. It took him about a week to go into a newer, lower level of stimulation. Research shows that our mind takes about eight days to calm down and rejuvenate. A perfect example is for rejuvenation is going on a vacation. Chris focused more effortlessly than before because his mind was so destimulated that he did not seek distraction. He came up with more ideas and plans because his mind was wandering about new possibilities.

There is a mode where we let our mind deliberately wander. It is called “Scatter Focus,” and research shows that this process allows our minds to develop new ideas and plans. It turns out that when we let our attention rest, it roams around three main places – past, present, and future. People think about the past 12% of the time in which they recall ideas. At the same time, present is a productive place where the mind wanders 28% of the time. However, the future is the major bucket where the mind wanders about 48% of the time. The rest of the time, the mind is dull and not rooting for any wandering.

This phenomenon of mind-wandering is referred to as prospective bias. When the mind is overstressed and working hard, it seeks distraction. Not all distractions are useless. When the intellect reaches the state of being calm, the distractions become more useful because they become the nest for new thoughts and ideas. We need space, and space allows for creative ideas to flow through. A stressed mind is not the best place to brew new ideas. Chris takes a simple example of moving cars to explain this. Traffic moves only when there is space, and the same is the case with ideas as well.

Here are my five takeaways from this video: –

  1. An average attention span for people has reduced from 40 seconds to 7 seconds (Internet Research)
  2. Not all those who wander are lost
  3. The most brilliant ideas strike when the mind has the chance to connect several constellations of ideas, which does not happen when you are singularly focused on an activity.
  4. Taking simple breaks or making simple changes into our standard routine, can make mind wander and become more creative.
  5. Capture ideas as they come because mind moves faster than we can remember

Thank you for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out my other articles and give some feedback or comment on them. Link for the ted talk-


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September 2023